Tag Archives: Talking Heads

Writing: Talking Heads

When you write a conversation between two or more people, you have a dialogue. However, for many new writers a common problem is what we call “talking heads.” Dialogue goes back and forth between Dick and Jane but there is no setting, no description whether of the room or of their actions or mood. The reader will become lost, not being able to differentiate from one character to the next, or in being able to tell what is going on besides talking.

Using “Dick said,” “Jane said” with every line of dialogue becomes overly repetitive and boring to read. It also doesn’t show what the character is doing or feeling while they are talking. Writers will sometimes fall into: “I love that coat,” Jane said excitedly. “It costs a fortune,” Dick replied morosely.

Adverbs ending in “ly” can slow down the action. They’re also used to “tell” when the writer should be “showing” instead. Using the above examples with showing could result in much more information: “I love that coat,” Jane said as she ran over to the rack and pulled out the purple Armani.

Dick scowled and kicked at the faded carpet.  “It costs a fortune.”

Here we have Jane’s excitement shown by her actions. Dick’s disapproval is shown in his expression. We now have mood and something of setting, though not a lot. This could be extended to the next lines: Jane turned and looked at Dick, noticing his hunched shoulders. “How can you say that? It cost less than your golf clubs.”This now adds more on their relationship, and notice I didn’t even have to say “Jane said.” It’s obviously Jane because I’ve mentioned her. I’ve also now made it her point of view. By noticing Dick’s shoulders, we are seeing through her eyes. Once in a character’s point of view, you need to stay there and not jump back and forth from one character’s POV to another, or you risk giving your reader whiplash and further confusion.

You can get through a few lines of dialogue without description but very few. Even a half a page is too much without something. The reader needs tone of voice, emotions or actions. Adding tone of voice is a delicate thing. You don’t want every piece of dialogue to have: he expostulated, she snarled, he growled, she simpered, he bellowed, she screamed. It gets a bit much, bringing melodrama where it shouldn’t be.

All in all, you can have a dialogue heavy scene and still show action and setting and emotion. It takes practice and balance. Variety is part of the solution. Falling into a pattern of he said/she said, or having dialogue that always ends in action is a pitfall for repetition. The important thing is to keep the action active and to stay away from passive language.

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Music Magicians: Eno & Byrne

A new collaboration between David Byrne and Brian Eno has come out, their first in thirty years. If you don’t know who they are, Byrne is of Talking Heads fame http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Byrne and Eno is just a god. He’s produced numerous albums including work on David Bowie’s, U2’s and Coldplay’s albums to name a few, not to mention his work with Roxy Music and Talking Heads.

I’ve always considered Brian Eno an artist first; an innovator, a sculptor. Far more than a musician he experiments with sound. He did some of the first samplings in music when he and David Byrne produced My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (which coincidentally I found the book with same title years ago, by Amos Tutola about an African shaman–I never quite finished it as it’s very nonlinear). I love some of his early albums, which to me have not become dated because they’re just so different. Taking Tiger Mountain and Another Green World are two of my favorites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_eno

Eno’s Ambient Music (for airports etc.) never did strike me as being more than sophisticated musack but he was working with nearly subliminal perceptions and gradual changes in music that go unnoticed until you go, hey, that changed somewhere along the line. I always liked the quirkier stuff. I don’t have everything and need to still find a lot of these in CD, if they exist. Eno and Cale have always been a bit more eclectic and experimental and the pop rock crown may never have heard of them. But anyone who is a serious musician, especially knows of Eno’s work. He’s been listed on some albums as playing the Eno or something may have been Enoized.

One of my all time favorite albums ever is Wrong Way Up  by Eno and John Cale, he of the Velvet Underground. Unfortunately I had it only in tape and was hoping to transfer it to CD before it was stolen from my car (who steals tapes these days?). So now I’ll need to see if I can buy a CD. I’m hoping it exists. You can never tell with these guys.

Anyway this is their new album, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today, exclusive through the internet right now, and that’s where you order it.  http://www.everythingthathappens.com/

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